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Farm Bureau backs temporary soy import ban

(Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- K.T. Arasu, Reuters, 02/09/04:

NEW ORLEANS - The American Farm Bureau Federation, the largest U.S. farm group, on Monday backed a controversial call to temporarily ban soybean imports into the United States from countries with a crippling plant disease.

The farm federation also called for a delay in imports of soybean meal until a government study on the Asian rust fungus prevalent in Brazil is completed.

"We think it's appropriate that the risk assessment be made and there should be a halt (on imports) until then," Terry Francl, chief economist of the farm federation, told Reuters on the sidelines of a conference organized by the U.S. Grains Council.

He was responding to a call last week by the American Soybean Association for a halt to soybean imports until the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service completes a risk assessment on the fungal disease, either later this month or in March.

The wind-borne Asian rust disease is prevalent in Brazil, the world's second largest soybean exporter after the United States, and to a lesser extent in Argentina.

The calls come amid trade that the United States will likely import soybeans this spring after a drought slashed last year's crop, driving prices to near seven-year highs and forcing top soybean processors to scale back operations.

Any large quantity of soy imports could weigh on soybean prices, or at least keep a lid on further gains in Chicago Board of Trade futures, thus affecting farmers' potential incomes.

The U.S. Agriculture Department has projected soybean stocks to be the lowest level in 27 years this year. It has forecast the United States will import 8 million bushels (220,000 tonnes) of soybeans in the 2003/04 marketing year that began Sept. 1.

The Asian rust fungus last year cost Brazilian farmers more than $1.3 billion, and American experts are concerned that the disease could reach U.S. shores.

"Once the fungus gets a foothold in the United States, then the battle is going to be very costly," Francl said.

Francl said the temporary ban should also apply to imports of soymeal. "Even after the beans are blended, the spores can sometimes be effective," he said.

Industry sources said APHIS is considering requiring soy imports to be held in storage for 60 days, a period that would render ineffective the spores that spread the fungus.

A few cargoes of Brazilian food-grade soybeans arrived in the United States last month.

Wilmington Bulk LLC, a Wilmington, North Carolina-based consortium of poultry and hog producers, has said it has booked up to 90,000 tonnes of soymeal from Brazil for arrival in the United States in the spring, saying the imports were priced lower than domestic supplies.

Last week, Iowa congressman Tom Latham introduced a bill calling for a blanket ban on soybean and soybean meal imports from countries with the Asian rust.

Francl declined to comment on whether the farm federation would support Latham's bill.

CropChoice editor's note: The Soybean Producers of America called for this ban one month ago.